GOP Senators Grill FBI Director over Use of Geolocation Data to Track Capitol Rioters

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Senators Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) and Mike Lee (R., Utah) on Tuesday pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray on the procedures federal law enforcement officials have used to track down those who participated in the January 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m anxious to see those who committed unlawful, violent acts on January 6 brought to justice,” Lee said during a Senate Judiciary Hearing on Tuesday. “I also believe that … with this circumstance, like every other circumstance, we have to make sure that the civil liberties of the American people are protected.”

The Utah Republican explained that he had “heard a number of accounts” of people who were in Washington, D.C. on January 6 who never went near the Capitol but were “inexplicably” contacted by FBI agents who knew of their presence in the district that day “with no other explanation, perhaps, other than the use of geolocation data.”

“Are you geolocating people, through the FBI, based on where they were on January 6?” Lee asked Wray.

“I think there may be some instances in which geolocation has been an investigative tool, but I can’t speak to any specific situation,” Wray responded.

“But what are you using to do that?” Lee asked. “What’s your basis for authority? Are you using national security letters?”

Wray said, “I don’t believe in any instance we’re using national security letters for investigation of the Capitol—”

Lee interrupted to ask the FBI director if he had gone to the FISA court, to which Wray responded he did not “remotely believe FISA is remotely implicated in our investigation.”

The senator continued pressing Wray, asking if the FBI is “using warrants predicated on probable cause.”

“We certainly have executed a number of warrants in the course of the investigation of January 6,” Wray said. “All of our investigative work in response to the Capitol [riot] has been under the legal authorities that we have in consultation with the [Department of Justice] and the prosecutors.”

Later, Hawley continued Lee’s line of questioning regarding geolocation data, asking Wray if his position is that he doesn’t know “whether the bureau has scooped up geolocation data, metadata cell phone records from cell phone towers.”

“Do you not know, or are you saying maybe it has or maybe it hasn’t? Tell me what you know about this,” Hawley said.

“So when it comes to geolocation data specifically—again, not in a specific instance, but just even the use of geolocation data—I would not be surprised to learn—but I do not know for a fact—that we were using geolocation data under any situation with connection with the investigation of [January 6],” Wray said. “But again, we do use geolocation data under different authorities and specific instances.”

The FBI, Department of Justice and local police in Washington, D.C. are investigating the origins and execution of the January rioting at the Capitol, with the probe resulting in hundreds of arrests so far.

Republicans have expressed concern that the methods law enforcement has used to track down rioters could infringe upon personal liberty. Last month Bank of America sparked outcry after it said it would hand over banking information to the federal authorities for people suspected of having involvement in the riots.

In the days after the riot, Bank of America handed over data to the FBI on thousands of customers who traveled to Washington, D.C. around January 6, Fox News reported.

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